Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Happy Dance

Surgery was Wednesday and all went according to plan.  It was good not to have to go to the hospital but instead be at the surgical suite at my surgeon's office since it was all so much more "informal".  As soon as I arrived, they gave me something "to relax me"; the anesthesiologist came in and we talked, I watched TV while I waited, and then it was time.  They walked me into the surgical room where I jumped up on the table (these tables are not at a level for short people...I always need a boost).  My surgeon and his nursing staff were getting ready and I heard the anesthesiologist say, "You should be feeling a little tired real soon...".  I never heard him finish the sentence because I was "out for the count".  I remember nothing until it was all over.

As my surgeon said, he "moved the skin graft over".  I woke up on the stretcher with a "white corset-kinda thing" (that had a little red rose on it just for effect, I imagine) around my chest and feeling fine.  My surgeon came in to say "all went well" and unfortunately, I once again was going home with a drain.  Once they made sure I was fully awake and "all system's go"; my husband was asked to get the car and I was wheeled downstairs.

I feel asleep again as soon as we got home, but started to feel uncomfortable once I woke up.  Thankfully, I still had some painkillers left from the last surgery so this helped me to sleep and find a comfortable spot that night.  I wasn't to see the surgeon until Friday, but was supposed to wear that corset thing until then.  I couldn't tell if the corset was helping or hurting.  I finally had to remove it from time to time for relief.  Then put it back on for relief.  It didn't help that the drain was in a very uncomfortable area.

On Friday we went back to the office.  I was thinking things looked good, but felt even better when my surgeon felt the same way.  Although I wasn't happy to hear that the drain won't be coming out until Monday.   I still am also leery of thinking everything will be OK since "things" seem to appear after a time (as they have over the past few months)...but I am hopeful!

As I was leaving the office, he came back up to us and did a little "happy dance" and said he was excited that things were looking as well as they were.  And that "happy dance" meant to me that he wasn't just being encouraging...but actually thought this time we "had it"!  Maybe the "third time WAS actually the charm" for me!

This weekend things have been a little uncomfortable since it is the heat wave of all heat waves in our area and even though we have stayed mostly in the AC, I prefer the outside air and being able to get walking outside.  I am also swollen again all around my chest area so once again moving from lying down to sitting to standing positions take a little practice before these simple actions can be done without pain.  And drains are NEVER comfortable!

Last night I finally got to sleep and remained asleep (without a painkiller) for most of the night.  I was that tired.  I even chose to "sleep in" rather than go to church today because I just sooo needed it.

I have not yet done my own "happy dance"; but will if I get through the next couple weeks and all still looks OK.  We are supposed to go on vacation August 15th for a few days, and I am just really hoping we are able to do this

Tomorrow is Monday, and we'll see if he's still dancing "happy".  It's been a long summer already!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Third Time's The Charm?

The verdict is in...although my surgeon thinks the area is healing, he feels we need to go ahead with the minor surgery.  My healing capabilities last time proved to be an up and down battle that finally ended with me needing the skin grafts.  He is wary of letting this go and having it become a problem like last time.

The good news is that it will be done in the surgical suite connected to his office, and I will receive a "twilight" anesthesia which will enable me to walk out of there in just a few hours.  The surgery starts at 1 pm, and with time there for recovery, he believes I should be out and home by 3 pm.  I am hoping that this will indeed be the end of it and complete healing can finally take place.  My left breast is doing fine (that's the one that had the cancer), and surprisingly it is the right breast that is having skin problems.

It is getting to the point where we feel like "family" when we walk into this office.  They have called us their "favorite patients". My husband, ever the comedian, always has a joke for the girls at the desk and has a good rapport with the surgeon.  We know two of the girls at the office from our town so there was some initial familiarity there from the beginning.  They are the nicest people and all of them call us by our first names and keep telling me that they are "pulling for me" and just know that this will be the turning point.  I certainly hope so.

With all this going on, I completely forgot about my second 3 week cycle of Herceptin on Friday.  I was at work when my cell phone rang and I saw it was from my oncologist's office.  Here I am wondering why they were calling, and they were wondering why I didn't show up!  I was supposed to go to the surgeon's to have him look at that "misbehaving skin", so I quickly had to change that appointment, run to the chemo ballroom, then run to the surgeon's afterward.  It was a crazy day and I couldn't believe I had forgotten about my treatment.  My calendar is just full of doctor appointments and stuff to remember...somehow I just went on autopilot.

I was glad that the Herceptin infusion did not take that long.  I no longer have to get benedryl before the Herceptin, so all I needed was the 15 minute flush, and then the hour and a half for the Herceptin itself.  Altogether, I was out of there within three and half hours.  Remarkable!  But I am still somewhat anemic, and I need to have another muga scan before the next Herceptin treatment.  My oncologist wants to ensure that my heart ejection rate doesn't fall again.  I have noticed since the last treatment that the muscle aches and pains are back already.  I feel it also in all my joints.  I am hoping it will ease before the next treatment as I don't want to anticipate six more months of feeling like this.

You're right...this sure hasn't been easy.  I'm sure there are others who have it worse; but I sure would have liked it to have been better.

In spite of all this, I find I can still smile and know that my doctors are doing their best.  My body has "taken a licking, but it keeps on ticking".  I have a tattoo on my inner right ankle of an ichthus (also called the "Jesus fish") and when anyone asks how I keep going, I just point to my ankle.  Somehow, it seems like fate that one day last summer that my son and I decided to get matching tattoos in different places.  Mine is in a perfect place to see whether I am sitting or lying down; so it is a good reminder of strength and peace.  After this is all done, I am going to add a pink ribbon around my tattoo as a reminder of what kept me going.

I am also hoping to be able to participate in a breast cancer walk at a local college in October.  I am going to get a group together from our church and the preschool and it should be fun and all for a worth-while cause.

So, I am hoping that "third time's the charm" and this will be the turning point in the healing process.  I'll just keep looking at that tattoo. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Never Say "Never"

I can't believe I am saying this...but I might have to have more surgery!  Yeah, I know...I said there would be no more.  I am kinda dazed myself.

Without my realizing it, it started a few weeks ago.  There was an area on my right breast near the recent skin graft sutures that developed this "blood blister" area.  My surgeon watched it one week, then two weeks ago, he kinda "scraped it" (yuck...and it hurt; even though there is not much feeling).  He told me to keep putting on antibiotic ointment and a bandage and that he would be going away the following week but that I would see his colleague while he was gone.  It did start getting red by the next visit but when I mentioned this to the colleague, but he said it would be "OK".  Well, evidently...NOT!

My surgeon was back this week, took one look at it yesterday and said, "I don't like that it is not getting better and that it is getting red.  And I am not going to wait long this time for your skin to get better.  I feel we waited too long last time.  Therefore, I am going to take this piece out and if on Friday (when he will see me again) it doesn't look any better, then I am going to have to do some more surgery.  However, please know it will not be as involved as all you have gone through.  it will be outpatient and just involve "moving the skin graft over".  Easy for him to say!

I sat there in shock as he got himself and me ready for the small piece of skin to be cut from my breast..

It is sad that I was just beginning to feel somewhat better even though there was this one little area of trouble apparently brewing.  Now, today, one day after he cut the piece out, I am once again feeling some pain and uncomfortableness (will it ever stop???) and can't stop thinking that I just KNOW my skin will not be "behaving" again.

One of my dear friends just gave me a prayer shawl that she crocheted for me.  It is beautiful and I look at it and just think of all the prayers she told me she said for me as she created the shawl.  It came at a good time since it is now my "comfort item" much like the "blankies" my preschool kids bring in with them for their own comfort.  She did make me laugh, however, when she said that it is my "lousy Irish skin" causing the problems since every Irish person she knows has had problems with their skin after surgery.  I didn't want her to know that I am not as Irish as she thinks; but I do agree with her that I have lousy skin.

I now dread going back to his office.  And I am sure I am his worst patient nightmare also as everytime he has thought we are "done", I seem to bring a surprise with me on a future visit.

So, prayer warriors...I am in need of your prayers for healing for this area so that I will not need to undergo surgery yet again.  As for me right now, I'm wrapping myself up in the prayers my shawl will whisper to me. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hair's the Story

I've been in a holding pattern this week, which is kinda nice after all I've been through the past month.  I'm slowly beginning to feel like myself and I am getting around a lot more. In fact, lately I have attended church, started to drive locally, and have been able to sit at my computer at work and "catch up" to all that has been put on hold or was awaiting my attention.  It is very good to be away from the "four walls" of my home and to "join the human race" once again.

I went for my one and only appointment this week (imagine that...only ONE!) on Tuesday to the plastic surgeon.  My regular surgeon was on vacation, so I saw his associate who had assisted on my last surgery.  He was very quiet, not at all like my regular surgeon, and the visit was quickly over.  But he did say that things are progressing normally and I still need another couple weeks for the swelling to go down enough to continue the reconstruction.

And here is the part that I think "needs some 'splaining".  I have had a few of you asking about the reconstruction since you remembered it had already begun at the mastectomy and didn't understand what is happening at this moment.  So, "hair's (here's) the story"....(forgive my pun but hair is utmost on my mind).  At the time of the surgery, tissue extenders were placed behind the muscles in my chest.  These extenders are slowly filled over time with saline solution to enable the muscle to expand to the size I will choose as my "new size".  Contrary to popular opinion, bigger is not always better and I just want a comfortable size for my height and weight.  Once this size is agreed on, then the silicone is put into place during a small procedure in the surgeon's office.

After my last surgery, however, as the saline was being inserted....all the problems with my skin were beginning.  At that time, the surgeon had to take out most of the fluid he had inserted.  If you remember, he tried various treatments to save the tissue, but my skin just (as he said) "wasn't behaving".  It was finally decided that I had to have the skin grafts in order to continue any of the reconstruction efforts.  So, the skin and some muscle was taken from my back and sewn over the "misbehaving skin".  This is where we are now...awaiting the swelling from the skin grafts to recede so the saline can once again be inserted and this part of the reconstruction can begin again.  

I hope this explanation clears up any questions or confusion.  To put it simply, the runway is built, we are just waiting for the airplanes to arrive! 

In the meantime, I am just so thankful to God that He was with me all this time and carried me through some of the most difficult parts.  It seemed over the winter that this point in my treatment was so very far away.  Now, I am here on the last of the roads I need to yet travel.  I am, hopefully, done with surgeries.  I am done with chemo and just have the "every 3 week" Herceptin for the next 7 months.  I will be on the Anastrozole medication that I will need to take for 5 years.  It is much like the Tamoxifin you may be familiar with, but geared toward women who have already gone through menopause.  It decreases the amount of estrogen the body makes and therefore, slows or stops the growth of many types of breast cancer that need estrogen to grow (which mine did).  Of course, I will also be seeing my surgeons (breast and plastic), my oncologist, and my internist more often than I had before.  But THE WORST IS OVER!  I am on my way to becoming that "survivor" and earning my Pink Ribbon!

In the meantime, hair is utmost on my mind and I am also glad my eyelashes and eyebrows are just about grown in.  I have even had to shave my legs and underarms again!  And the hair on my head is taking its time coming in; but since it is summer and just looks like a "boy's cut", I have been going without wigs all the time and without hats most of the time.  I cannot wait for the top of my head to have enough hair to "spike" with some good gel!

So, that's it for now.  I'm at a "happy lull" in the action.  And glad to be here at this point!